1 (Formerly from) National Institute of Technology Trichy (INDIA)
2 National Institute of Technology Andhra Pradesh (INDIA)
3 National Institute of Technology Trichy (INDIA)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2023 Proceedings
Publication year: 2023
Pages: 181-189
ISBN: 978-84-09-49026-4
ISSN: 2340-1079
doi: 10.21125/inted.2023.0078
Conference name: 17th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 6-8 March, 2023
Location: Valencia, Spain
In recent times blended learning (BL) is gaining acceptance after the onset of mandatory transition to an online teaching mode imposed due to the pandemic. We note that as a distinct teaching method, now BL may be a reasonable experimental option to impart experiential learning for teaching institutions in India. We point out that BL can also serve conduct of a Computer Science laboratory work e.g., algorithms laboratory. In this context, we argue that traditional algorithms problem-sets are still meaningful wherein students understand a problem, come-up with an algorithm, augment it with data structures, do coding often with a library of routines and carry out an analysis. For a teacher, we argue that if BL is adopted for a laboratory course, then take-home-exercises of the ICPC-type (International Collegiate Programming Contest) can be used effectively. We illustrate this with concrete examples viz., the maximum subsequence sum; we present our variations.

We examine a specific issue in the conduct of Computer Science laboratory courses in the present post-pandemic era in the blended learning (BL) mode when many schools in India are seeing heavy investments in computer, communications, and electronic gadgets infrastructure. To concretely understand the grassroot-level, we take-up the conduct of a bachelor’s first-level laboratory course in Algorithms under the present scenario. Our emphasis here suggests the advantage of BL wherein we stress the importance of supply of original problems viz., take-home-exercises (THEs) and their analyses to augment the online component, from a teacher’s viewpoint. We qualitatively argue in this section -- why conventional problem sets, independent of machine and O/S details, are still meaningful in a blended framework; to clarify, in section 2 we illustrate our intended meanings via a sample case study, an analysis of a problem that may appear in coding contests. We draw on our teaching experiences in the NIT-system (the National Institutes of Technology) in India.

In teaching algorithms, a major concern in the NITs in recent times is the achievement of the following goals:
- Do students possess skills in conventional programming as prescribed by the Graduate Attributes mandated by accreditation bodies?
- Can students design algorithms and data structures for unseen problems as prescribed by typical course outcomes of Data Structures and Algorithms courses?
- Do high-performing students and fast-learners prefer challengers (THEs) to code?
- Is feedback from the hiring firms encouraging or negative?

We emphasize that feedback from students with identified grade-point ranges as well as hiring firms provide objective evidence to analyze the state-of-affairs. In this context, we outline and discuss potential solutions for the major issues pertaining to motivation of promising candidate top-coders who like to see ICPC-type THE.

To sum up, we propose the usage of BL in conducting skill-oriented CS laboratories such as Algorithms lab. We have explored typical issues faced by teachers in successfully administering BL for a Lab course and suggested viable solutions for the issues from our experiences drawn from teaching CS theory and laboratory courses in the context of Institutes of Technologies in India.
Algorithms, blended learning, CS-laboratory courses, student engagement, programming, problem analysis, maximum subsequence sum, teaching methods.